Door and Window Musings
by Tara Taffera
July 14th, 2014

Taking Action Against Counterfeiters

A few years back, when you attended a trade show, all you seemed to see were signs on exhibitor booths warning, “No photos.” This is because many companies, and many of them from China, were attempting to copy American products. Now, it seems you see less of these signs and you don’t hear as many comments about this “problem.”

One product category that seemed to be particularly vulnerable was the hardware market, so I posed this question to one global hardware supplier, who agreed with that assessment. “That is also my perception,” he said. “The primary reason I believe is that we have Chinese importers operating in North America and hence it has become more ‘customary’ to deal with Chinese directly. A real challenge is the complexity of the topic and the related legal battle about the protection of intellectual property may be a concern.”

However, it is still having an effect on some industries, and I want to applaud one supplier in another industry for taking a stand. Back in May, during the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, Empire Level, a supplier of measuring tools, served a complaint and summons to eight Chinese companies participating in counterfeiting efforts against Empire. The ongoing counterfeiting led to the Mukwonago, Wis.-based level company taking legal action while the Chinese companies were on American soil.

The Empire legal counsel scoured the National Hardware Show floor for companies displaying the infringing product and took photos that will be used in legal proceedings, according to a press release from Empire.

“Not only do these counterfeiters hurt our business and our brand,” said president of Empire Level Jenni Becker, “they are a threat to our economy and American jobs. We refuse to sit still and allow the distinctive features of our products to be knocked off. It’s damaging to our company and it’s not fair to the end customer who believes they’re getting a superior product when they’re not.”

Getting back to our industry, Michael Collins, managing director Building Industry Advisors LLC, says there is a general expectation at shows that people won’t take pictures without permission. But as with anything there are exceptions.

“I once saw at a show a Chinese attendee walk into a hardware booth that had a monitor showing the engineering and design specs of their hardware,” says Collins. “It was obviously meant to be an eye catching marketing presentation and nothing more, but the person asked for a printout of the specs. The assistant that was helping work the booth was trying to figure out a way to print them for him until the company’s marketing manager came over and stopped her.”

Collins’ point, he says, is that counterfeiting is alive and well.

“Part of the reason I think you hear companies fighting it or complaining about it a little bit less is that there is more business to be had right now and they don’t feel the ‘leakage’ of counterfeits as sharply as they did during the downturn,” adds Collins. “It’s definitely still there, though, both counterfeits of brands and near knock-offs that push the limits of ethics and design patents.”

The hardware supplier agrees and says it is less of a problem for his company due to its global presence.

“As a global company by having a legal and patent department it’s easier to attack counterfeiting issues, whereas domestic /national companies are struggling with that,” he says.

So bottom line: the issue still remains and is one to keep an eye on. What are your thoughts? Send me an email, or post a comment here.


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